After 30 Years, ?Justice is on the Way' in Cambodia

Phnom Penh. Cambodia's UN-backed war crimes court on Monday made final preparations for its long-awaited first public trial of a Khmer Rouge leader, 30 years after the communist regime fell.

Prison chief Kaing Guek Eav ? better known as Duch ? will appear today for the initial hearing in his trial for crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture and premeditated murder.

"The court is an absolute hive of activity," said the tribunal's spokeswoman, Helen Jarvis, who predicted nearly 1,000 spectators and journalists would attend the trial's first day. "It reaffirms to us the intense public interest in what's happening. We're well aware that this is a historic day for Cambodia."

Duch, 66, is one of five Khmer Rouge leaders who have been detained by the court, seeking justice for the 1975-1979 regime that killed up to 2 million people.

His first hearing is expected to last less than three days, mostly involving procedural matters to determine the structure of the trial, according to court officials.

Norng Chan Pal, a Cambodian child survivor of the Khmer Rouge's notorious Tuol Sleng prison, said at a news conference on Monday that he wanted Duch to face justice "because Duch's hands are full of blood."

Norng Chan Pal cried and held tissues as he described making a recent visit to the prison, which is now a genocide museum, and returning to the spot where he last saw his mother.

"I miss my mother," he said. "I looked at the place where my mother looked at me through a window on the second storey. I never saw her again," he said.

Even though full testimony is not expected until March, the official start of the first Khmer Rouge trial was welcomed by Sim Ny, a street vendor in Phnom Penh.

"I am very happy to see the Khmer Rouge trials start now," said the 49-year-old, who lost her brother while she was forced to work in a rice field. "This means justice is on the way to us.

"Thirty years have passed, but I am still wondering why the Khmer Rouge, which was Cambodian, killed millions of Cambodians," she added.

Duch was indicted last year for allegedly personally overseeing the torture and extermination of more than 12,000 men, women and children when he headed Phnom Penh's notorious Tuol Sleng prison, known as S-21.The prison, once a high school, is now a genocide museum lined with haunting black and white pictures of many victims and displaying torture instruments. Thousands of inmates were taken from Tuol Sleng during Duch's tenure for execution just outside the capital at Choeung Ek, a former orchard now known as the Killing Fields. Most adults were beaten to death with iron bars to save bullets, while children had their heads smashed against a tree.

Established in 2006 after nearly a decade of negotiations between Cambodia and the United Nations, the long-stalled war crimes tribunal is the last chance for Cambodians to find justice for the Khmer Rouge's crimes.

The Khmer Rouge, led by "Brother Number One" Pol Pot, emptied Cambodia's cities during its time in power, exiling millions to vast collective farms in a bid to forge a Marxist utopia.

Agence France-Presse

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